Scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have carried out an experiment that has recreated a form of matter that pervaded the entire universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang - the cosmic explosion that marked the origin of the universe. The experiment produced fundamental insights into laws pertaining to all visible matter.
Using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a type of a particle accelerator, scientists collided gold ions - atoms with their outer cloud of electrons removed - head-on when they were traveling at nearly the speed of light. The beams were traveling in opposite directions around RHIC's 2.4-mile, two-lane "racetrack."
The collision produced impact energy so intense that neutrons and protons inside the gold nuclei melted, releasing elementary particles: quarks and gluons, which are fundamental constituents of matter. The scientists say that these particles then formed a nearly friction-free primordial plasma that only existed in nature about a millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
RHIC not only discovered the liquid-like quark-gluon plasma, but also measured its temperature at 4 trillion degrees Celsius, which was about 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun. The temperature has been recognized as the highest temperature produced in a man-made experiment by Guinness World Records.
An important finding of the experiment was the validation of the theory that for a brief time at the beginning of the universe there were no protons and neutrons, only free quarks and gluons. However, as the universe expanded and cooled, the quarks and gluons bound together and have remained inseparable ever since.
An interesting discovery of the experiment was the nearly perfect liquid like behavior of the plasma. This surprising phenomenon occurred at both extremes of the temperature spectrum, as other physicists had observed similar liquid behavior in trapped atom samples at temperatures near absolute zero, ten million trillion times colder than the quark-gluon plasma created at RHIC.
"This is just one among many unexpected connections we've found between RHIC physics and other scientific forefronts. The unity of physics is a beautiful thing!" says physicist Steven Vigdor, who leads Brookhaven's nuclear and particle physics program.
by RTT Staff Writer
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